Weird Swedish food… Tunnbrödsrulle

It’s like a kebab. But not. Or maybe like a sandwich. But no, not really. It’s a wrap. But it’s not healthy. Help me out, what is a hot dog, pink shrimp salad, mashed potatoes and lettuce wrapped in flat bread?

It’s really f&%ing hard to eat, is what it is.

It is Sweden’s contribution to the world’s greatest hangover foods. A kebap (that’s what I’ve settled on, a kebab and a wrap) that can satisfy even the strangest of cravings. The bread, tunnbröd, is like a Swedish tortilla and it is filled with unruly mashed potatoes that are seemingly plotting their escape through the bottom and come closer to freedom with with every bite. You have to start by digging out the unnaturally pink and mayo-heavy shrimp salad with a fork to even have a shot at getting in a bite. And surrounded by all of the potatoes and shrimp, the hot dog seems insufficient and awkward as it pokes out the top of a meal with a circumference the size of a large movie theater soda.

But this seemingly disgusting combination of flavors, called Tunnbrödsrulle in Swedish, is actually… tasty. That is if you can stop laughing enough and shaking your head to take a bite.

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Weird Swedish food…

Just like Thailand and its fruit, Sweden has its own weird, weird food. I have been inundated with these oddities since I arrived, and after four months here I can tell you that some of it is good, some palatable and some downright nauseating.

The first installment of what will become a regular feature on Urban Pilgrim falls into the latter category.

I can’t make this stuff up. It’s caviar in a tube. They spread it on hard bread (knäckebröd). They squirt some on hard-boiled eggs. They drizzle a little on ice cream. Ok, not the last one. But this company makes a variety of caviar in a tube, including banana flavored and egg flavored. Yum.

But Swedes didn’t stop there. They have looked for every opportunity to put some combination of fish and cheese in tubes. There is a wide array of products mixed with soft cheese, including other cheeses, in a tube. You have your basic shrimp cheese, lobster cheese and crayfish cheese. Or if you can’t decide between fish cheese and caviar, have them both with a lovely lobster, crab and dill flavor.

They have tube cheese for different moods too. Feeling a craving for some meat cheese? Try the ham cheese or even the smoked deer meat cheese. Wanting to go veggie? Grab the mushroom cheese or olives, garlic and mozzarella cheese.

Sweden even has cheese in a tube that rivals Baconaise, America’s most revolting condiment. Yeah, you guessed it. Bacon cheese.

However, there is one that is perfect for those days where you need to unwind, but don’t have the energy to pour yourself a stiff drink AND make a sandwich. Just grab a tube of blue cheese and whiskey and feel the stress melt away.

Crispy, crunchy … yucky

No, I can’t. No really, I’ll be sick. It’s deep fried. It’s got legs. You can’t be serious.

OK, give me one.

I fancy myself quite the adventurer. I’ll try anything once in the hopes it will give me a story to enthrall my grandchildren with so I’m not relegated to “in my day” tales. But strange food and me aren’t as acquainted. It’s there. I’m there. But we don’t interact much. I tried sea snake in China and that was enough of a leap for me.

But on a night out in Khao San Road with some visiting Swedes, I gutturally and emphatically said I refused to eat a cricket. They were charged up, ready to ingest the small insect that annoys the world over with its loud chorus-like noises. “These guys are nuts,” I thought. But deep down I was envious of their intrepid attitude. I’m not one to turn down a challenge but I also wasn’t ready to lose my Thai salad in a sea of Western backpackers and touts advertising ping pong shows.

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So, in a rash move I grabbed those wooden sticks, pinched a crispy cricket and steeled myself for utter repulsion. Camera ready? Okay. Here goes. Ooh a little crunch, there’s a leg, suppress the gag reflex and swallow. Ugh! Nasty!

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A tip: when deciding to eat cricket, make sure your photographer is adept at electronics, at least enough to capture the cricket poised over your tongue and your face twisted in disgust. Otherwise you will be forced to eat it twice. Thanks a lot Mr. Hedenskog. You so owe me.

In 30 minutes or less…

I’ve wasted over three months in Bangkok fretting over dinner choices, running out at the last minute to grab some chicken green curry, or making due with scraps from the fridge. I knew that some restaurants, like so many at home, had to deliver. But unlike NYC, no one in Bangkok magically litters your front door with menus. It was only sheer desperation on a Friday night with a friend over, a torrential downpour outside and nothing in the house that forced me to Google “food delivery in Bangkok.” I never dreamed those four words would change my life.

The first entry pops up. I click. And it’s like opening up the door to the secret world of Narnia.

Food by Phone is a Web site where you can order food online from over 60 different restaurants, confirm your order within minutes and pay only a 60 baht delivery charge ($1.72). Not only that but you can order beer, wine, flowers, cigarettes, spirits and DVDs. You can even order shoe polish and razors. A similar service is offered in NYC, but it doesn’t offer proper meals.

Another delivery service that, surprisingly, isn’t offered in the States is Burger King. That’s right, you can order heart attack-inducing junk, and in case you wanted to cut out the exercise portion of actually getting the food, a man on a motorcycle delivers the burger and fries to your place.

I know that my rousing endorsement sounds a lot like selling out. But that’s just fine with me. If I can get online and order Indian food, a couple of beers, post-it notes and some deodorant, then I am a happy Bangkok resident. Nothing beats one-stop shopping; get your food and run your errands. Done and done.

Funny thing about Thailand … T&A

Most people are well aware of the pervasiveness of the sex industry in Thailand, but it’s usually something that stays conveniently out of view unless you choose to see it.

This is not the case at a cute little Vietnamese restaurant on Sukhumvit Soi 23. Order a cocktail and it comes in a high-ball glass. Order a beer…

I did my best to embarrass Sarah, who was already mortified, by laughing loudly and taking pictures. Then I ordered a beer for myself, but made sure to ask for a regular glass. The waiter then said, “ahh, no sexy glass.” That’s right. It’s got a nice butt, but it doesn’t need to hold my beer.

Splurging on Skippy

When I told my family and friends I was moving to Bangkok, they were thrilled, sad and curious. “Where will you live? How long are you going to be there for? How will you get around the city? Does it snow there?”

But my Dad only had one question: “How much does a Big Mac cost?”

On the surface it sounds like a silly question, but what he really wanted to know was the relative cost of things in Thailand.

Well, I’ve got your answer Dad: $1.83

Maybe Thai cows are cheaper than American ones, but it’s quite a deal compared to the $3.29 it is in the states (or $3.49 in NYC). For goods that are produced for the Thai population there are many bargains to be found. Food especially is quite inexpensive. Things like rice, milk, eggs and even beer are much cheaper here than their counterparts on the other side of the world. But if you’re a expat looking for a little something from home there is an unfortunate reality; if you want the imports you have to pay big.

Department stores, supermarkets and small shops offer everything you could want at home, from graham crackers to makeup to an iPod. But for all goods that are brought in to satisfy our desire for all things Western (I don’t mean cowboy hats), there is a huge import tax, and in many cases you could pay 30-50 percent more than you would at home.

The most vulnerable place for my wallet has proven to be the grocery store. The excursion to Villa, a supermarket that caters to expats and carries all sorts of American treats, is an exercise in self-restraint and mathematical skills (or if you get a fancy phone, you just cheat and use the currency converter). There are just a few things I can’t seem to relinquish from my culinary routine.

Deciding not to give up my love of red wine, I have instead become a connoisseur of some new winemakers that I might have had an unfair bias against at home.

Oh is that a 2008 Vino Cheapo? I'll take it.

Oh is that a 2008 El Vino Cheapo? I'll take it.

And what goes better with a not-so-perfectly aged wine, than a delicious fromage. They have some nice mozzarellas, cheddars, brie. But even a block of Kraft American costs $10. Thankfully I’m not that desperate yet. But if I start eating individually wrapped cheese slices, one of you is going to have to step in with some gouda.